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Vegan restaurant owners accused of ‘breastfeeding ban’ say announcement was ‘misunderstood’

Restaurant bans kids 5 and younger

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A vegan restaurant in Indianapolis came under major fire after announcing they would no longer serve children five and under, and the owners say the announcement was taken out of context.

Plantastic Indy is located near West 10th Street and Indiana Avenue. It is a small vegan restaurant with a focus on fighting climate change through food. It opened four months ago and has only 10 tables and a small staff.

Owners Taina and Gary Bartlett tell News 8 that they have poured much of their life savings into building the restaurant, leaving their former careers as civil and network engineers to bring 100% environmentally sustainable eating to those in Indianapolis interested in this pursuit.

But on Saturday night, the Bartletts posted to the restaurant’s social media that dining rules would soon change – they would no longer serve children five or under.

The post provided two examples that led to the decision: Dirty diapers left on tables and breastfeeding in public.

(Provided photo/Taina Bartlett)

Following the announcement, the post went viral, comments flooded with people expressing disgust toward the restaurant for “banning breastfeeding.”

Taina says the original post was taken down by the suggestion of two other small business owners reaching out to express concern. Shortly after publishing a video explaining the post, the restaurant announced it would be closed on Sunday.

The decision to close on Sunday followed multiple death threats Taina says she received. The threats made both the Bartletts and their staff fear for their safety.

Other comments left on the posts said she “should go back to where she came from” and accused her of being an illegal immigrant.

Taina is from the Dominican Republic, and says she has lived all over the United States. Gary also moved to the U.S. from Montreal. Both have been legal residents for several years.

Taina says that through their statement, they did not ban breastfeeding, but temporarily banned children five and under due to cleanliness and safety concerns.

She adds that young children would often run between tables with tight walkways and sharp edges. She also says in the four months the restaurant has been open, she has picked up dirty diapers that were left on tables.

The Bartletts say that there is no problem with breastfeeding, but tell News 8 that the experience of seeing breastfeeding in public was jarring.

“Neither of us ever have eaten at a restaurant where someone would openly expose a breast in public only when in our own restaurant has this happened,” Gary said. “One would expect common decency to be the norm.”

Indiana law states that a mother has a right to breastfeed in any place she has the right to be. State law also says private business owners have the right to serve or deny any person as long as the reasoning is not discriminatory.

Jody Madeira, professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, says while it might not be great business practice, there are no legal consequences for banning kids.

“If a private entity decides to ban children under a certain age, and if one is under the assumption that a child is done breastfeeding by the age of five, that is not an explicit ban on breastfeeding,” Madeira said. “But it is a practical ban on breastfeeding because women with children young enough to breastfeed will not be allowed to bring their children on the premises.”

Madeira adds that as there are no legal ramifications, the court of public opinion may be the biggest judge and jury the Bartletts face.

The Bartletts say they recognize how the announcement was misinterpreted and have no fears moving forward, but will remain closed to dining as they figure out future plans.

Plantastic Indy will stay open for to-go orders until further notice.

Statement from Taina Bartlett, president of Plantastic Indy

“I want to address four topics.

  1. I want to address a misunderstanding that occurred due to my statement being taken out of
    context overnight. I sincerely apologize to the mothers who were hurt by this. I want to clarify
    that I have never banned mothers from our establishment, and I have never stated that
    breastfeeding is unsanitary. What is unsanitary is putting dirty diapers on the dining tables.
  2. For the haters who have called me illegal, told me to learn to spell, many more hater phrases,
    yes, I do admit that when I get upset. I make typos in my writing versus those of you who got
    upset, and angry at not even the statement I did, but at what you heard from post to post and
    now are threading my life and wishing me death.
  3. To those who wish we had closed and have been bad-mouthing not just our business, but most
    importantly, our mission (fight climate change through food), I want to reaffirm our
    commitment. We started this out of our own money and years of savings, and now, we have
    many loans. I haven’t seen a penny or paid myself in the last 3 years. You will not be taking jobs
    from us. But from our 64-year-old dishwasher, who makes $13/hr, and from our servers and our
    line cooks, who make $17/hr. All of them get a free meal of their choice, access to 401K (3
    months with us), Vacation Paid (after 1 year), employee discounts, financial wellness, and other (benefits.) As a new business, we offer these benefits to our employees because we care about our
  4. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of those who believe in us and our mission and
    have been with us since we were in the 200 SF kitchen down the road. Your unwavering support
    and courage to stand up and speak the truth about me and how I behave and treat my
    customers and employees is deeply appreciated.

“Again, to all the moms, I am sorry if my words hurt you; when I made my vow to become a civil engineer,
I took it seriously, and for me, no matter what, safety comes first.

“This is the third generation restaurant. In here, the walls on the bathrooms are not designed for babies. We did put some changing stations in our bathroom, and we changed the toilets to be touchless for sanitary reasons.

“Still, the last thing I want to see is a baby getting hurt in our place. We can’t be everything to everyone.”

Taina Bartlett, MBA
Cofounder and President of Plantastic Indy